Wikwemikong Health Centre celebrates 30 years of community health care

Retired employee Daniel Manitowabi recalls his time at the health centre. photos by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG—Judging by the huge crowd that gathered at the Naanwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre (WHC) on the afternoon of July 11, a community barbecue is one of the best ways to hold a summer celebration of a 30th anniversary.

It was happy birthday for an organization that has spent “three decades strong in helping you achieve your health and wellbeing goals.”

The event started out with a welcome by Kerry Assiniwe, WHC communications and media services, who acted as master of ceremonies.

Following a prayer by Dorothy Wassegijig-Kennedy and a celebration song, courtesy of Harvey Bell Jr., WHC acting director and mental health clinic manager Diane Jacko and Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory director of operations Kevin Wassegijig provided remarks on the important role that WHC plays in the community.

It was on July 11, 1988 that the WHC opened its doors and by 1994 Health Canada had transferred most of the services to the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. All services provided at the Health Centre are provided in both Anishinaabemowin and English to best serve all members of the community.

The WHC shield is a 150-year-old replica of the medicine shield used by the healers of the Wabanowin Medicine Society of the Odawa tribes and “represents the entire universe with the all-knowing Thunderbird at the top as the representative of the Great Spirit. The Thunderbird was entrusted with the knowledge and ability to look after the well-being of the Odawa’s, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically (a holistic approach).”

“The Thunderbird was also given the responsibility of looking after the Upper World,” notes the WHC leadership, “which included the movement of the stars and all the planets. He was also given the responsibility to ascertain by working with the Brother Sun and Grandmother Moon, continued growth of all the species of medicine plants.”

The Mishibishiw, or black panther represented on the shield, “was the master of the underworld who was responsible for bringing sickness, bad luck and everything nasty and needed to be constantly appeased, while the area between the Thunderbird and the Panther represents the ‘In Between World,’ which the Odawa and other tribes occupied. The ‘In Between World’ was where everything to sustain life was placed,” continues the WHC lore. “This included the four sacred herbs, sweet grass, tobacco, sage and cedar and the triangular heart of the Thunderbird represents the three components of man: mind, body and spirit.”

The WHC shield symbol was known “to only a very few traditional healers due to the influence of church and state. For over 100 years, law forbade our people to practice their spiritual ceremonies such as the sundance, potlatch and shaking tent. With the establishment of the Medicine Lodge within the Health Centre Complex this Shield was once again brought out and has become the symbol of Health and Wellness in our Community.”

In ‘A Glimpse Back in Time,’ former WHC employees Phyllis George and Daniel Manitowabi recalled their time with the organization before joining the community for the barbecue and cake.

“This is actually my third retirement,” laughed Mr. Manitowabi. Although he retired from helping to set up mental health infrastructure in communities all across the North Shore several years ago, he was enticed to return to the traces at the WHC and in M’Chigeeng before finally settling in to focussing on the retirement cottage he recently built out of timber he milled himself.